turkey syria refugees.jpg
Photograph: EPA/SEDAT SUNA

Turkey is expecting an overall 60,000 refugees to arrive from the besieged Syrian province of Aleppo, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Saturday, following criticism that his country was refusing to let people in.

The exodus has come amid a major attack on rebel-held areas of the northern province by the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime, backed by Russian airstrikes.

"We still keep this open border policy for these people fleeing from the aggression of the regime, as well as airstrikes of Russia," Cavusoglu said in Amsterdam, after talks with his EU and Western Balkan counterparts on the migration crisis.

"We have received already more than 5,000 of them. Another 50,000-55,000 of them are on the way and we cannot leave them there alone," the minister added.

But locals in Kilis, southern Turkey, said that the Bab al-Salameh border crossing, nearest to the affected areas, remained closed on Saturday.

Turkish news agency Anadolu reported that 2,000 ethnic Turkmen did enter Turkey on Saturday, but from the Jabal al-Turkoman area further to the south-west.

The Norwegian Refugee Council said thousands of people were still arriving in overcrowded camps close to the border.

"NRC and other humanitarian organizations are working around the clock to deliver tents and first-need items to families who have left behind all but that they could carry with their hands, or in their cars if they were lucky," a statement by the group said.

A local activist, using the pseudonym Omar al-Halabi, said that he was with people heading towards the border after a string of villages fell to pro-government forces, cutting the area off from the city of Aleppo.

"It is cold, and people who fled carrying only small plastic bags [of belongings] are suffering," he told dpa over the phone.

The United Nations on Friday estimated that some 30,000 people had gathered there by the end of the day.

Thousands more have taken refuge in the adjoining Syrian Kurdish enclave of Efrin, where officials have called for international help in dealing with the influx.

The issue was raised with Cavusoglu in Amsterdam, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said after the meeting, pointing to a moral and legal duty to "protect those in need of international protection."

"The support that the EU is providing to Turkey among others is aimed exactly at guaranteeing that Turkey has the means, the instruments, the resources to protect and to host people that are seeking asylum," she added.

Earlier this week, the European Union finalized a 3-billion-euro (3.4-billion-dollar) fund for Turkey aimed at improving the lives of Syrians there, in the hope that it will reduce the number of people travelling westwards in search of a better life.

Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn warned Saturday that the exodus from Aleppo could also trigger new refugee flows towards the continent, which has struggled to get a grip on the migration surge of the last 12 months.

"It is highly probably that a large wave of people will now head our way," Asselborn said ahead of the migration talks.

"The reason for this is the indiscriminate bomb attacks in and around Aleppo," he added, calling on US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to hold urgent talks on the issue.

Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni called for joint efforts to prevent the "incredibly difficult" humanitarian situation in and around Aleppo from deteriorating further.

International talks on the situation in Syria are expected to take place in the southern German city of Munich on Thursday, following a suspension of UN-led peace talks in Geneva due to the spike in violence around Aleppo.

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